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Mary Ellen Bartley uses photography to explore the physical and formal qualities of the printed book and its potential for abstraction. By emphasizing the unique “aura” and materiality of printed matter, Bartley’s work offers a celebration of textural and tactile properties, a particularly potent act in this increasingly digital age.


With Paperbacks (2009-2010), Bartley photographs stacked paperback books that take on the identity of minimal sculptures. This is emphasized by the anonymity of the books, whose spines and covers cannot be seen, just the blocks of pages with subtle variations in color. For her Standing Open (2010-2011) series, Bartley photographed her own library of photography books, each book standing slightly open before her camera. Bartley used their chance settling and a full frame close-up to present these books in a new way, approaching them as aesthetic objects that oscillate between abstraction and figuration.


Bartley continues to borrow from the conventions of abstract painting in Push 2 Stops (2014). These photographs of empty photo sleeves arranged on a lightbox recall the Suprematist paintings of Kazimir Malevich, while the handwritten annotations on the sleeves imbue the series with a sense of loss or absence. 

Born in the Bronx, NY, in 1959, Bartley received her BFA from Purchase College, SUNY, and she lives and works in Wainscott, NY. Her work has been exhibited in numerous institutions including The Queens Museum, NY; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Houston Center for Photography; The Drawing Room, East Hampton, NY; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; The Watermill Center, NY; and National Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Guatemala City. Bartley has taken part in numerous residencies, including at The Queens Museum, NY; Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY; and Watermill Center, NY.


Recognitions include Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 Photographers in 2011, 2012, and 2013; and a first place Lucie International Photography Award in 2012 for her series Artists and Models.

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